Sunday, 5 February 2017

Genre Fiction

Poul Anderson wrote:

science fiction, including space opera and speculative fiction;
fantasy, including heroic fantasy and historical fantasy;
historical fiction;
detective fiction -

- four genres with several sub-genres. Did Anderson write any mainstream fiction, if not in novels, then in short stories?

Story-telling is ancient and pre-literary but how and when did genre fiction arise? Alan Moore's Jerusalem presents an account. In the interests of multi-blogging, I will shortly summarize that account on the Personal and Literary Reflections blog, then link this post to that summary.

Later: link.

18 comments:

  1. Kaor, Paul!

    You asked whether Poul Anderson wrote any stories or novels which could be called "mainstream." Altho they indisputably belong to the mystery genre, Anderson's Trygve Yamamura novels and stories seemed closest to "mainstream" literature. Because most mysteries are set in times which are contemporary to their publication dates. And they depict contemporary laws, customs, beliefs, mores, institutions, etc.

    I used to be a big mystery reader, devouring the detective stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, GK Chesterton, Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham, Agatha Christie, John Dickson Carr, Rex Stout. And Robert van Gulik's stories of Judge Dee, set in the early T'ang Dynasty of China. But I'm no longer can be called a mystery fan, altho I still have the Doyle, Chesterton, Carr, and van Gulik books. And I hope I will reread them.

    Altho Anderson used a premise taken from fantasy in THE DEVIL'S GAME, that book seems to be the closest to being "mainstream" writtem by the author. And the parts of THE BOAT OF A MILLION YEARS set in the 20th century might be called "mainstream" as well.

    And that's about all the fictional works of Poul Anderson that I think can be called "mainstream." I thought of BRAIN WAVE as well, set as it was in the early 1950's, but that is definitely science fiction, not "mainstream." Perhaps other readers can suggest stories by Anderson which can at least debatedly be called "mainstream."

    I've been using double quotation marks for "mainstream" mostly because of the dislike I have for most mainstream fictional literature. Tales of middle class angst and sexual depravity has no interest for me. Nor do I think such works deserved to be remembered.

    I do appreciate some contemporary fictions which are not SF, however. Mostly the satires of Tom Wolfe (esp. his THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES and A MAN IN FULL) and Christopher Buckley (examples being LITTLE GREEN MEN and SUPREME COURTSHIP). But satires on the follies and foibles of mankind is not quite "mainstream."

    Sean

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    1. Sean,
      What do you think of Alan Moore's account of the origin of genres?
      Paul.

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    2. Kaor, Paul!

      I read your summary of Alan Moore's argument and looked up the link to James Hervey. If Moore is arguing that what we call novels, short stories, fiction in general, took form as late as the 1700's, then I have to disagree. After all, there were predecessors to fiction as long ago as the EPIC OF GILGAMESH, and Old Testament midrashim like the Book of Jonah. And some would argue that Petronius Arbiter's SATYRICON (c. AD 60) was the first real novel.

      More recently, I read a review in the February 6, 2017 issue of NATIONAL REVIEW by Richard Brookhiser discussing a book about Miguel de Cervantes' DON QUIXOTE. Brookhiser wrote: "Egginton [author of THE MAN WHO INVENTED FICTION: HOW CERVANTES USHERED IN THE MODERN WORLD] credits Cervantes with inventing fiction, by which he means a new kind of bifocal narrative, in which we are simultaneously inside and outside the characters, seeing the world through their eyes as we watch them move through it. "At every step of the way a fictional narrative seems to know both more and less than it is telling us. It speaks always with at least two voices, at times representing the limited perspective of its characters, at times revealing to the reader elements of the story unknown to some of or all of the characters." Egginton contrasts Cervantes methods with those of Boccaccio, whose collection of stories, the DECAMERON, was 250 years older. "Boccaccio's characters remain objects in the world, no matter how rich the pictorial realism of their actions, environments, and behaviors. In contrast, Cervantes narratives function by constantly leading us to...internal feeling and emotions.""

      That leads me to suggest in turn that as a writer Poul Anderson is "descended" from Miguel de Cervantes. Because we often see in Anderson's works the internal thoughts and emotions of his characters. Something Anderson strives to clearly point out by using italics for those interior, unspoken thoughts. A method I wish more writers would adopt (I'm glad to say S.M. Stirling uses italics to show us the inner thoughts of his characters).

      Sean

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    3. Sean,
      Modern European novels began in a particular period. Two questions:
      (i) Did they have precursors? Answer, yes.
      (ii) Is Alan Moore correct in his account of how Gothic and other genres diverged from modern mainstream novels?
      Paul.

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    4. Kaor, Paul!

      I'm not sure about your first sentence. In what period would you date the beginning of modern European novels? The Gothic novels beginning with THE CASTLE OF OTRANTO? What about how Richard Brookhiser quotes Egginton as arguing that should be dated from the publication of DON QUIXOTE?

      Agree, whether beginning with DOX QUIXOTE or the Gothic novels, they both had precursors.

      I'm not sure how EXACTLY the Gothic and other genres diverged from mainstream novels. I would say rather that mainstream literature diverged from the Gothic. Should we consider the novels of Jane Austen as beginning the mainstream genre? Her books are certainly very different from THE CASTLE OF OTRANTO or FRANKENSTEIN.

      Btw, congratulations on Her Majesty's Sapphire Jubilee! The first British monarch to celebrate a silver, golden, diamond, and now sapphire jubilee. Elizabeth II now begins the 66th year of her reign.

      Sean

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  2. Correction. I should have said that Elizabeth II is now beginning the 67th year of her reign.

    Sean

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    1. Correction to my "correction": actually, Elizabeth II is beginning the SIXTY SIXTH year of her reign, not the sixty seventh. Drat!

      Sean

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    2. The novel is considered as a literary genre that writers can easily adopt to express their beliefs and thoughts. Unlike drama and poetry, which date back to 2000 B.C., the novel is a quite recent creation in the world of literature. Long fictional narrative, written in the form of stories, first appeared in 1700. However, novels became really popular in the early 18th century.

      Sean,
      I copied the above passage from the Internet:

      https://www.reference.com/art-literature/modern-novel-f9eb34dc06b67821

      Also:

      Robinson Crusoe marked the beginning of realistic fiction as a literary genre
      -from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robinson_Crusoe

      Paul.

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    3. Kaor, Paul!

      But the texts you quoted makes no mention of Cervantes' DON QUIXOTE, which has a good claim to being the first true novel in the modern sense. But, I am willing to consider ROBINSON CRUSOE as marking the beginning of realistic fiction. But I would not consider either of these works as being "mainstream" as that term is generally understood.

      Sean

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  3. Paul and Sean:
    *The Tale of Genji*, Murasaki Shikibu, early 11th Century, is a novel, and for the most part realistic (there's a brief hint of the supernatural when it seems one of Genji's lovers inadvertently left her body to cause the death of his wife).

    "Tales of middle class angst and sexual depravity has no interest for me. Nor do I think such works deserved to be remembered."
    Such as:
    "'Worms,' she said, 'that's what they are, worms, that's what we-uns all are, Billy Chile, worms that grew a spine an' a brain way back in the Obscene or the Messyzoic or whatever it was.' Even in her sadnesses Ella Mae must always make her sad little jokes, which saddened me still more on this day of sad rain and dying magnolia blossoms....
    "'Take off your clothes,' I yawned."
    — *The Straw and the Bean: a Novel of Modern Youth*, Truman Brochet

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    1. Kaor, DAVID!

      Dang! I actually KNEW about THE TALE OF GENJI, but I completely forgot about that story in my previous notes. I really should have mentioned it!

      Btw, just to drag in a Poul Anderson allusion, "Murasaki" was the surname of the Emperors of the Wang Dynasty in Anderson's Technic History stories.

      And the truly ghastly bit you quoted from "The Sraw And The Bean" merely confirms my detestation for tales of "middle class angst and sexual depravity"! Give me a good mystery or SF novel instead!

      Sean

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    2. Ummm, Sean, *The Straw and the Bean* was a fiction WITHIN a fiction — an example of how far "literature" had sunk in PA's story "The Critique of Impure Reason." So, strictly speaking, that was Anderson himself wrote that drivel ... basing it on horrible examples he'd seen, no doubt.

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    3. Kaor, DAVID!

      I'm crushed, shattered, and dismayed at how I miss that quote from Anderson! (Smiles) "The Critique Of Impure Reason" was also a satire, among other things, of this kind of ghastly writing!

      Chagrined! Sean

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    4. It occurred to me that Anderson's "The Critique Of Impure Reason" to find hints and indications of what he thought of both "contemporary" fiction and the commentary lavished on them. And I'm sure Anderson personally read a lot of the drivel of the kind Dave quoted in his remarks.

      Sean

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    5. Hi all,
      of course my reference to the first novels meant the first modern European novels, not the earliest extended prose narratives. European novels were so called because they were regarded as a new/novel form of literature. My main interest here is whether Alan Moore is right in his account of how genre fiction diverged from the first modern European novels.
      Paul.

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    6. Kaor, Paul!

      I've thought and thought about this point you made, trying to settle in my mind how genre fiction diverged from "mainstream" literature.

      I would argue that "genre" literature comprises those branches of writing appealing to what interests different kinds of readers. The mystery story appeals to people who like problem solving, who also want justice to be vindicated and the wicked punished.

      Science fiction is that branch of literature which took form as a true, modern science was arising. While we see some hints of proto-SF in Jonathan Swift's GULLIVER'S TRAVELS, it is widely accepted that Mary Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN was the first modern SF novel. SF is generally future oriented and strives to show how advances in science and technology might or will affect people, in both bad and good ways.

      Fantasy, often set alongside science fiction (and frequently enjoyed by SF readers) takes as its premise the use in fiction the appearances of ghosts, mythical creatures, God or gods, magic, etc.) This literature can be set either in the past, future, or contemporary times. It can include variants such as using the "alternate worlds" hypothesis showing us places where fantasy is real.

      Stephen King's SALEM'S LOT is a fantasy novel about how real vampires might exist in a contemporary small American town. Poul Anderson's THREE HEARTS AND THREE LIONS is a fantasy set in an alternate world whose hero, taken, from our world, gradually discovers his real identity.

      I would argue for Jane Austen's novels as founding what became "mainstream" literature in English. This kind of writing tends to favor realistic depictions of what an author sees around him in that writer's contemporary times. At it's best I suggest that realistic fiction shows us how characters react to their lives and times. The interest lies in moral and psychological insights about the characters. The author whose works comes closest to this, IMO, is Fyodor Dostoevsky's novels: such as CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, THE IDIOT, THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV, etc. And I would add as well the novels of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, such as AUGUST 1914, THE FIRST CIRCLE, CANCER WARD, etc.

      I don't think many English writers have written truly GOOD mainstream novels. Probably because Great Britain and the US has been spare the kind of agonizing, traumatic convulsions of the kind suffered by Russia. Rather, I think the best non genre novels in English tend to be satires of the kind written by Evelyn Waugh, Tom Wolfe, Christopher Buckley. These authors used wit and biting humor to give us their views of our societies.

      Sean

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    7. Sean:
      Mark Twain. Ernest Hemingway. P.G. Wodehouse. Sinclair Lewis. Jack London. Et Cetera (Good old Et — you thought I'd forgotten him, didn't you?)
      I ought to add some women, but all my favorite female writers are fantasy/science fiction or mystery, and you grieved about the dearth of quality MAINSTREAM authors in English.

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    8. Kaor, DAVID!

      Good choices, I agree! Altho I'm not sure I would classify Mark Twain and Jack London as "mainstream," for different reasons. And I think Wodehouse is better thought of as a writer of humor and gentle satire. So that leaves Hemingway and Lewis as mainstream.

      Also, all of these writers are dead, some of them LONG dead. So they can't really be considered CONTEMPORARY mainstream writers. I would still dismiss most mainstream writing today as dreck.

      Sean

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